Forget “Year of the Pitcher II”, because with young arms like the ones in this year’s rookie class, the world of baseball could be seeing a trend settling in over the next decade.
While many critics have pushed baseball’s “lean towards pitching” as a follow-up to the Steriod Era, it should not be discounted that there are simply a bevy of talented young arms that are driving ERA’s down – from Felix Hernandez to Josh Johnson, and then some. Many of the game’s most talented pitchers haven’t even reached their prime yet.
Don’t expect a lull to come any time soon, because more arms are on the way, and the clearest example exists in the American League this season, where not one, but FOUR young arms could (and should) battle for the Rookie of the Year chase in 2011.
Obviously, health, longevity and overall team performance will tie in, too, but no one can discount just how talented this quartet is: Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays, Kyle Drabek of the Toronto Blue Jays, Michael Pineda of the Seattle Mariners and Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles.
Certainly, other talents could also be in the mix by season’s end, such as Kansas City power hitting first baseman Eric Hosmer, but these four arms are the clear-cut favorites right now.
Jeremy Hellickson, who many felt was the clear front-runner for the award heading into the season, has not disappointed – and has made fans of the Rays easily forget about Matt Garza.
“Hell Boy”, as he is often called, is known for possessing fantastic command of all his pitches.
When analyzing Hellickson, Baseball Prospectus mentioned how he added “a two-seamer and a cut-fastball to an arsenal that already included a four-seamer that can touch 95 and a changeup that’s considered his best pitch”. Hellickson showcased that wicked changeup on May 13th, throwing it at will, while shutting down the Baltimore Orioles during a four-hit, complete game shutout victory.
To date, Hellickson is 5-3 with a 3.14 ERA and 40 K’s over 57 1/3 IP.
Kyle Drabek is widely considered to be the gem prospect that Toronto received when sending Roy Halladay away to Philadelphia. Drabek, now fully entrenched in the Jays’ starting rotation, “has a repertoire that features both a mid-90s fastball and a hard breaking ball worthy of a shutdown starter”, per Baseball Prospectus.
In ten starts this season, Drabek is 3-3 with a 4.34 ERA and 38 K’s over 56 IP. The biggest concern is he also has 37 walks, and if he can contain his wildness, he’ll be even more effective on the mound.
Michael Pineda is 6’5” and just 22-years old, and to this point as a rookie, he has outperformed teammate and reigning AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. Per Baseball Prospectus, Pineda “combines the electric arm of many an unpolished prospect with the command and control of a finesse lefty, giving him the lofty strikeout totals of the former to go with the stingy walk rates of the latter”.
Pineda’s numbers hold true to that description, posting a 6-2 record, 2.16 ERA, with 61 K’s and just 14 walks over 58 1/3 innings. Over his last two outings, Pineda has thrown 14 shutout innings, giving up just five hits, while striking out 16 and posting back-to-back wins.
Zach Britton has been highly regarded by scouts, and many felt he would eventually have an impact on Baltimore’s starting rotation, but no one expected him to reach the major league level this soon. An injury to Brian Matusz is what forced the Orioles to bring him up opening week, and Baltimore is glad that they did.
Baseball Prospectus mentions how Britton loves to use “his sinking low-to mid-90s fastball while employing his plus slider”, and in the opening months, Britton has owned American League hitters.
In ten starts, Britton is 5-2 with a 2.35 ERA and 35 K’s over 65 innings. Over his last three outings, Britton has gone 22 innings, giving up just three earned runs, yet has just three no-decisions to show for it.
Who Has The Edge?
It’s still very early in the season, and bringing up the rookie of the year race in May is as ridiculous as hyping up a no-hitter that is being thrown in the fifth inning – but that happens, and therefore, so shall this.
Each of the four pitchers cracked MLB’s Top 50 prospects list at the beginning of the season. In fact, all four cracked the top 20, made their team’s rotation and have pitched well.
But who has the edge? That’s hard to say. Pineda has the edge statistically, posting the lowest ERA, the most wins and a WHIP under 1.00. But if you look closer at the opponents faced, Pineda’s wins are against San Diego, Minnesota, Kansas City, Toronto, Oakland and Detroit. Hellickson has a ‘W’ against Boston, plus two against Baltimore, and one against Minnesota and Toronto. Britton’s list is the most impressive, knocking off the White Sox, Red Sox, Twins, Rangers and Rays.
Currently, the argument should be for either Britton or Pineda, with Hellickson not far behind.
No matter, with this year’s young arms lighting up the American League, this is shaping up to be an epic race for the 2011 rookie of the year – and a hellish one at that.
* Check out Baseball Prospectus 2011, it’s a great reference for information on all prospects
** All stats current as of end of day May 24, 2011